How many of you know at least one story of a farm tragedy? A horrible accident that injuries or claims a life? My husband’s Baba watched her father die in a thrashing machine when she was a child. I recall at least three family friends or neighbours who were killed doing what they love — farming. Just last year an elderly Alberta farmer servicing his combine nearly died after he became trapped inside the engine compartment. Being trapped there for over a day caused him to reexamine his commitment to his family and his love of farming. Many farm children over the years have perished, and some are maimed for life. Many continue to farm, through the great support of Farmer’s With Disabilities.
At any farm show the true “Maytag man” though is the person promoting farm safety. Everyone is looking at freebies and shiny new toys at the shows. They are not thinking of blood, of planning for safety, or risk of death doing what they love.
There is a deadly attitude about farming: “If I’ve done it this way for years, regardless of how unsafe it is, I can continue to do so.”
Sitting snug in the house on a winter day it may not seem necessary to be planning for spring safety, for calving safety, for feeding next week and being safe. But this is exactly what needs to be considered in order to prevent injury or tragedy.
There are a few areas where our safety is most at jeopardy when we are farming.
Working with equipment.
Working with livestock.
Working when distracted.
Working in extreme conditions.
Are you scoffing? Are you saying, “If I didn’t work alone nothing would get done!” Fair enough, and I can relate. But how safe are you working? I shudder when my farmer husband works alone because he can become very focused on the task rather than safety. Are you chocking wheels? Are machines turned off? Does someone know what you are doing, when you’ll be done and where to look for you? If his family had known he was servicing the combine, I’m sure that older Alberta farmer wouldn’t have been trapped for 24 hours awaiting discovery.
WORKING WITH EQUIPMENT
Are you using your equipment properly and safely? That loader bucket is not the best place for a ladder so you can reach a higher point beyond the ladder’s length. Are you aware of the safety measures and guards for your equipment? Do you know why they are there? (And no, it is not to frustrate you!) A few years ago, when people used to put their spare tire on the front of the truck with a long screw, a family friend stopped his manual-drive truck to open the gate. He safely opened the gate and got back in the vehicle while the truck was rolling. He pulled up to the garage and again left the truck in neutral, however tragically, he miscalculated and was pinned by his spare tire rack against the garage door. They found him dead the next day.
WORKING WITH LIVESTOCK
It is a reality that any livestock can be deadly. Any animal can bite or kick. Some are more potentially lethal than others, but never underestimate the threat of a frightened or angry animal. We are all familiar with the dangers of bulls, but more dangerous than a breeding male animal can be a mother cow, or an animal distressed by being separated from the herd. Australian-style handling systems make it safer for sorting livestock on your own, but they are not always used or available when you need them. A young southern Alberta farmer died while checking on his cattle, as one of the “ol gals” was just done cleaning her calf. He turned his back on her, and bent down to tag the calf. He had a new dog with him, one that the cow didn’t know. The cow felt sufficiently threatened to attack and she gored the man to death. Horses, llamas, cattle, pigs and sheep can kick and strike, run you over and many bite. Paying attention when working animals, and going slow, makes safety sense.
WORKING WHEN DISTRACTED
You’ve all done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all been out doing farm work when our minds weren’t totally on task due to some distraction. This happened to me last spring. My favourite cow had gled on her horn, neck and hoof. I was moving her up to cut the wire off. Things were going well until I moved a bit too fast and she instinctively struck out with her leg. Her hoof left a mud smear on the brim of my ball cap. Fortunately I jerked back at the right instant, otherwise we could have had a tragic collision. But, I had been distracted, not paying full attention of where I was standing. If you are upset or distracted don’t do farm work. Take time to focus and calm down, it could save your life.
WORKING IN EXTREME CONDITIONS
Fire, flood, and storms of all types and any other extreme condition can make farming extra hazardous. Not only are you dealing with the “normal” business of farming, but you have the added conditions. Last year when the rivers flooded in southeast Saskatchewan there were images on a CBC slide show of a stuck farm truck, then a tractor coming down the road, and then both a stuck tractor and farm truck, then all you could see above the water were the roofs of said vehicles. Was it worth losing both? What if the producer had been trapped? Working with animals in extreme conditions requires extra time, care and patience they are not going to understand you are “helping.” Always be aware of the dangers, never approach an extreme condition alone, if at all possible, and remember if someone has to rescue you they are also endangered.
Another aspect of extreme and distracted conditions is farming with children on farm. There is nothing more exciting than being on a farm when you are young. There is nothing more distracting than farming with children around, if you don’t have a plan. Do you have a safe play area? Do you have an eyes-on safety plan that everyone is accounted for before machinery is moved? Are the chores the children do on the farm age-appropriate and adequately supervised? It is tempting, especially with older children and teens, to make use of those extra hands to help. But your children and grandchildren are not adult farm hands and they require us to think of their safety first. They don’t have our maturity or ability to think things through, and their natural curiosity can overcome any admonition for safety. They are worth the time to keep safe, and there is nothing worth more than your child or grandchild’s health, happiness and life.
Farming is a way of life, and like many careers, it has it its share of dangers. It also has wonder, excitement, and satisfaction beyond measure. You are no less a farmer if you take a few minutes at the next farm show to learn about farming safety. You’ll be a great role model to your family and to other up-and-coming producers if you model safety as part of your farm business. What does safety cost? One measure is how much would your disability or death cost your family? I would wager the time spent to have a safety plan, and to act upon it, would return the investment by providing more time doing what you really love — farming.
The Province of Manitoba offers a grant program to build safe play areas on farms for farm children and grandchildren. This program offers producers the chance to build a play area that keeps their farm children safe. Please check into it and include your children in your safety plans.
http://www.fwdcanada.com/Additionally, many of the provincial farm animal care groups offer livestock, family and farm safety programs and training. Use Google to find resources in your area.